What Do Dirty Showers, Mrs. Robinson, and Cough Syrup Have in Common? Student Housing!

My 21-year-old brother used to argue that his bedroom felt more “cozy” and “lived-in” when it was an absolute mess, so it really shouldn’t have come as much of a shock when we visited him in college and saw an apartment in dire need of a good cleaning. “I didn’t raise you like this,” my mother said, vigorously scrubbing the bathtub walls. Apparently, she did.

Student residents such as my brother are part of a breed all on its own. Many of them have yet to master the art—and responsibility—of living on their own, and have a very different mindset when it comes to finding that perfect place to call home. They’re not looking for easy-to-clean showers, they’re looking for a fun community. And while it isn’t always possible to get inside their (dirty) bathrooms, it is possible to get inside their heads.

Below are my thoughts on three things students think about when eyeing your marketing campaign, according to Kim Cory, Sales and Marketing Manager for University Village in Columbus, Ohio: 

1. Get fresh with us. I’m not suggesting you take a page from “The Graduate” and unleash your inner Mrs. Robinson (hello, lawsuit)—just use funny and edgy words in your advertising. On the whole, college students are far less easy to offend, and they will appreciate the humor. Some of their 89-year-old grandparents might not be as receptive, but they’re not the ones living in your communities.

However—and this is a big however—don’t try too hard to “speak their language.” I had a middle-aged, out-of-touch college professor once ask the class to keep something on the “down low” and the entire experience made me very uncomfortable.

 2. Keep it simple. My brother asks me on an annual basis when our parents' birthdays are, so I’m pretty sure he has zero brain cells remaining to comprehend all of the details included in some verbose student housing ads. When you’re advertising to college students, use one large photo, one large headline, one or two great offers, an address, website and phone number.

And for those of you operating properties near Flagler College and the surrounding Jacksonville market, I’d also ask that you include “Dad—Oct. 23, Mom—Nov. 28.” My brother would be much obliged.

3. We talk. A few years ago, the President of my alma mater was found driving around in a car with a missing front wheel after downing a bottle of cough syrup. (Go Eagles!) Thanks to Facebook, news of the incident made its way around campus before the Robitussin wore off.

Lessons learned here: check your mirrors and your tires before your pull out of the driveway, and remember that students are going to talk. This is good news and bad news for student housing properties. If you have a fun, active, well-run community, your residents are going to talk (and tweet) about it, and their friends are going to listen—and hopefully lease. On the other hand, if you have a horribly managed community, you may be forced out of town like my former President. He currently resides in Qatar.

For the inside scoop on what students really think about your marketing campaign, check out the Marketing Insider in the February issue of units, which mails Feb. 8.

To learn more from Kim Cory and other student housing professionals, come to NAA's Student Housing Conference, Feb. 21-23 at the Wynn Las Vegas. Visit the conference website for more information.